NORTH BEND — It’s no secret that Dennis Carter Beetham, the Rome, N.Y.-born CEO and founder of DB Western Texas (DBWT), wants a hand in shaping the future of Coos Bay’s wastewater treatment plans.
The millionaire chemical tycoon has spoken at length, in person and through intermediaries, about his desire to take over ownership of both of the city's wastewater treatment plants. Beetham's stated reason for doing so is a desire to use "best available technology" to produce the cleanest possible effluent before it goes into the bay.
But what Beetham and his many surrogates, including mayoral candidate Mark Daily, don't say is that DBWT has been accused, multiple times in multiple states over a period of years, of illegally dumping toxic chemicals, as well as failing to report when those dumpings occurred.
One such allegation arose following a marital dispute between Beetham and his then-wife, Kathy Woeck.
As a result of divorce proceedings between the couple, DBWT's alleged dumping of toxic waste came to DEQ's attention. Woeck reported the dumping out of concern that the toxic waste might devalue property she would have been entitled to in a divorce, according to the transcript of a July 22, 2010, U.S. District Court hearing presided over by Judge Anna Brown.
In October 2007, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) conducted an emergency removal action of illegally buried hazardous waste on Beetham’s ranch in Powell Butte.
According to a report released by DEQ, officials removed thousands of tons of solid and hazardous waste, much of it dumped in black garbage bags.
Additional waste was discovered at the site on May 14, 2008, in the form of low levels of formaldehyde contaminating shallow soil.
DBWT’s voluntary cleanup agreement with DEQ was terminated by the department based on "DB Western’s failure to conduct further investigation…"
According to DEQ, attempts to negotiate with DBWT an order on consent failed after the company declined to "complete the necessary work."
The site was referred to DEQ’s site response section and the Environmental Protection Agency was brought in to assist in the removal of "six roll-off boxes of formaldehyde contaminated soil and investigate additional areas of the site."
According to the summary information on DEQ’s website regarding the case, dated on Feb. 29 of this year, the department is "currently working with DBWT to reimburse the state’s cost and resolve any outstanding issues at the site."
"They came armed with a search warrant that said officials had reason to believe the company had illegally transported and stored hazardous waste at the site in violation of federal law," the paper wrote.
In that same story, the Bulletin interviewed Jeff Ingalls, a now-deceased natural resource specialist with DEQ's hazardous waste program.
According to Ingalls, DBWT’s foul play was nothing new.
"In 1991, (DBWT) was told that they needed to stop taking hazardous waste, stop shipping it and apply for a permit," Ingalls told the Bulletin. "And that’s the same thing we told them at (Powell Butte) ranch. We found the same issues in North Bend...it would have paid for them to pay attention (with earlier violations in Minnesota), and they didn’t, and it’s cost them a lot in Oregon now."
Though Beetham was charged in U.S. District Court with four felony counts of knowingly violating laws and regulations related to the disposal of hazardous waste, and in state court with 16 related charges, including four felonies, Beetham pleaded not guilty to all charges and both state and federal cases later were dismissed.
But DBWT’s legal tangles didn't end there.
In 2012, two years before Beetham embarked on his stated quest for clean wastewater in Coos Bay, he was sued over allegations that one of his facilities was dumping toxic wastewater into another bay.
On Dec. 4, 2012, The Galveston Baykeeper, an environmental nonprofit based in Texas, filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against DBWT, specifically its flagship facility in La Porte, Texas, for dozens of violations of the Clean Water Act.
In the case file obtained by the World, the Baykeeper attorney’s alleged that DBWT "discharged wastewater that is more basic than bleach and more acidic than battery acid," as well as failing to submit Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) on or before November 2007.
According to the case file, DBWT "discharged and continues to discharge pollutants that exceed the permitted effluent limits for pH and chemical oxygen demand contained in DBWT’s Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (TPDES), failed to accurately report the results of sampling data on monthly DMRs, failed to timely report violations of discharges that exceed effluent limitations by more than 40 percent, failed to properly operate and maintain systems of collection, treatment and disposal and failed to submit complete and accurate monitoring reports by the 20th day of the following month."
DBWT eventually settled with the Baykeeper in 2013, with the Galveston Bay Foundation receiving a payment of $45,000 "for a supplemental environmental project for the benefit of the Galveston Bay watershed."
The case was dismissed on May 3 of that year.
For months, the North Bend-based chemical tycoon has made extensive efforts to make his case to privatize the city’s wastewater treatment plants. Neither Beetham nor his company has ever built or operated a municipal wastewater treatment facility.
His advertising blitz has included multiple full page ads in The World Newspaper and nearly $16,000 in radio advertising for Daily's mayoral campaign which has made wastewater a signature issue.
In addition to bankrolling the majority of Daily's campaign, Beetham's also provided then-councilor Tom Leahy with $135,000 in financial assistance for the 2017 Tall Ships Festival.
Together with Councilors Fred Brick and Mike Vaughan, Daily and Leahy made up the four-member majority that brought the decade-long replacement process of plant no. 2 to a halt in favor of a plan that would place both city plants in private ownership.
Now, the city faces an impending deadline from DEQ that could cripple cash-strapped Coos Bay, with fines ranging from $1,600 per day and $10,000 per violation.
Elected officials like Mayor Crystal Shoji, Councilors Jennifer Groth and Stephanie Kramer and area residents speaking in public comment have time and again asked why Beetham would bring this proposal forward at the 11th hour.
According to Beetham, Coos Bay’s own city manager, Rodger Craddock, told him that his proposal of privatizing the wastewater plants could have been much more feasible if he had come to the council six years ago.
"I’ve been working on this for years," Beetham said, in a recent interview in his conference room at DB Western’s headquarters on North Bend’s North Spit.
But given the current timeline that requires plant no. 2 to be completed by June 2018, the city's position is that it needs to move forward with the previously approved, public plan, before it faces extensive fines and potentially opens itself up to lawsuits from various environmental groups.
Beetham, however, remains undaunted.
"People that know me will tell you that when I get attached to a project, I want to see it through," he said.
The CEO admitted he has grown frustrated with city officials, including Craddock, whom Beetham says refuse to see the dangers of inadequate wastewater practices highlighted in a 2011 Food and Drug Administration study of Coos Bay.
According to Beetham, the study proved that not only was the city discharging potentially harmful waste into the bay and estuary system, but that the toxic and fecal viruses discharged were bio-accumulating in the area’s shellfish.
"This isn’t just a risk to commercial growers," he said. "This a health risk to children, elderly and those with compromised immune systems."
Beetham said the plant which the city is prepared to build is "antiquated," and will not meet the EPA's requirements in the future.
Beetham has continued to argue this point even after the EPA, in an Oct. 11 email to Beetham's representative, noted that the technology proposed for the new plant is in compliance "with bacteria and (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit limits based on both current and future water quality criteria."
Again and again, Beetham has vented his frustration about the city’s refusal to cooperate with him and his firm.
"When I call someone and ask for something, I get it," he said, when discussing how he was able to obtain wastewater quality reports from various treatment plants around Oregon. "But when I try to get them from Coos Bay, it’s under lock and key with a security guard."